I hope this newsletter finds you doing well. For this week’s newsletter, I want to offer a few useful tips in case you ever find yourself in a lawsuit but cannot afford legal counsel.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been in court, waiting for my case to be called, and the following transpires:
A consumer stands up as his or her case is called and they do not have an attorney present. The hearing will usually run about five minutes and goes something like this:
Judge: Good morning. We are here on the case of Bank XYZ v. John Rogers. This is a mortgage foreclosure case and we are here on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court will take appearances for the record, starting with counsel for Plaintiff.
Attorney for Bank: Good morning, Your Honor. Steven Richards here for Plaintiff, Bank XYZ.
Judge: Thank you, counselor. Anyone present for the defense?
The Defendant: Good morning, judge. My name is John Rogers. I am the Defendant homeowner in this case.
Judge: Good morning, Mr. Rogers. Do you have an attorney?
Mr. Rogers: No judge. I can’t afford an attorney.
Judge: Understood, Mr. Rogers. Mr. Richards, this is your motion. Are you ready to proceed?
Mr. Richards: Yes, Your Honor. We are here on our Motion for Final Summary Judgment of Foreclosure. Mr. Rogers wrote a letter to the Court in response to our foreclosure suit but the letter just explained his financial hardship and did not include any affirmative defenses. Mr. Rogers also has not filed a sworn affidavit in opposition to our motion so there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. While I sympathize with Mr. Rogers’ situation, without any legal defenses or affidavit, our motion should be granted. We ask for Final Summary Judgment of Foreclosure to be granted and for the Court to grant the first available sale date.
Judge: Thank you, counselor. Mr. Rogers, anything you would like to say?
Mr. Rogers: Yes, Your Honor. Thank you. I never wanted to fall behind on my mortgage. I lost my job and have had a real hard time getting a new one. Most of the time, they don’t even respond to me when I send in my resume. If I could get a little more time to get employment, I have no doubt I’ll be able to work something out with the bank. I just don’t want to lose my home. My wife has also lost her job, we have two kids, and are barely putting food on the table at this point. I would just ask that Your Honor grant some additional time to work this out.
Judge: Well, I am sorry to hear about the hard times, Mr. Rogers. I’m hearing a lot of stories like yours these days. Unfortunately, Mr. Richards is correct that without any legal defenses on file and without a sworn affidavit opposing the bank’s motion, I must follow the law and grant Final Judgment of Foreclosure in favor of the bank. The sale date will be set 45 days out. Mr. Rogers, I am sorry things didn’t work out better for you today. If your situation improves, as I hope it does, please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Richards and maybe you all can work something out. Mr. Richards, if you could please submit your proposed Final Judgment of Foreclosure. You two have a good day.
I have seen this happen countless times in Florida courtrooms. It’s hard to fault the judge because, in a situation like this, the judge is really just following the law.
If you ever end up in a lawsuit and do not have an attorney, here are a few tips so you do not ever end up in a situation like that described above:
Try To Retain Legal Counsel
Many good lawyers offer free consultations. Even if you cannot afford representation, the information you can learn during a free consultation can be tremendously helpful. You can also ask the attorney if they would be willing to offer a limited scope of representation to bring the costs down.
Apply For Legal Aid Assistance
If you cannot afford legal counsel, see if you qualify for legal aid assistance. CLICK HERE for a link for the contact information for all legal aid agencies throughout the state.
Make Sure To List Any Defenses in Writing
If you do not make enough money to afford counsel but still do not qualify for free legal aid assistance, and therefore have no choice but to represent yourself, make sure to include any and all legal defenses in your answer to the suit. If you omit any defenses, they could be deemed waived by the judge.
Unlike in criminal cases, there is no constitutional right to free legal counsel in civil cases, even for those with no income or minimal income. This is why I enjoy writing this newsletter – to offer free, helpful information to consumers who may be able to use it to protect themselves, their families, and their property.
I hope this information has been helpful. Have a wonderful Sunday!
Until next time,
Ryan C. Torrens, Esq.